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Garda Keith Harrison accused of making 'a series of incorrect allegations' about Tusla

Garda Harrison was cross-examined by counsel for Tusla today.

Garda Keith Harrison.
Garda Keith Harrison.
Image: Leah Farrell

Updated at 7pm 

GARDA KEITH HARRISON has told the Charleton tribunal that he believes visits to his home by a social worker were due to inappropriate contacts with child welfare services by members of An Garda Síochána.

In the current module, the tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, is looking at contacts between gardaí and the HSE/Tusla relating to Garda Harrison, which he alleges amount to an abuse of power.

Garda Harrison said that he was told by his partner, Marisa Simms, that social worker Donna McTeague apologised for having to make a home visit in February 2014, and said the visit was carried out because her superior had been in contact with An Garda Síochána.

The previous October, Simms had made a statement of complaint to gardaí about Garda Harrison, which she withdrew in January 2014.

Tribunal counsel Pat Marrinan SC said Ms Simms was no longer pursuing an allegation that McTeague had said she was under pressure from a superior, who was under pressure from the gardaí.

Garda Harrison said that the conversation between Simms and McTeague did not take place in his presence, but Simms had told him about it afterwards. He said he believed then and still believed it had taken place.

The garda said that McTeague did her job professionally, and he was not criticising her.

Conversation 

The Tribunal chairman asked Garda Harrison if he was saying that Sergeant Brigid McGowan, the Garda/HSE liaison officer, had “leant on” the social workers to make a home visit.

“What I’m saying is the team leader had a conversation with Sergeant McGowan that was relayed to Donna McTeague,” Garda Harrison said.

Marrinan said Donna McTeague said she never told Harrison and Simms there would be no more meetings after she met with the couple on 7 February 2014.

She said she never had any conversation with her superior about having to make another home visit because the gardaí had been in contact, and to her knowledge no such conversation ever took place.

The chairman said it seemed in the statement Garda Harrison had made that he was told by McTeague there had been garda pressure. Harrison said that he was told this by Simms, and had not heard it directly from Ms McTeague.

“Perhaps I should have made that clearer, but I’m making it clear, that’s what I was told,” Harrison said.

He said he was not tailoring his evidence to fit with that of his partner.

“Marisa may not recall the conversations. It was my belief at the time and it is my belief now,” Harrison said.

‘A clear reference’

The chairman asked Garda Harrison if he understood that ascribing to somebody something they did not say or do, was a wrong thing to do. Garda Harrison said he did.

Paul Anthony McDermott SC, on behalf of Tusla, asked Garda Harrison why he did not request his records from Tusla, which would have cost only the price of a stamp.

In a letter on 27 February 2014, after the last home visit, Harrison and Simms were informed they could request their records under Freedom of Information and Data Protection laws, and make amendments to any errors.

Garda Harrison said this “would possibly have brought Tusla back into our lives, which we didn’t want”.

“I had concern over the contacts between Tusla and An Garda Síochána at that time,” Harrison said.

We were relieved there was going to be no more contacts.

When McDermott asked the witness if he would take a final opportunity to withdraw the suggestion that a personal connection between Tusla and garda personnel was the reason for the home visits, Garda Harrison said he was told at an earlier meeting in HSE offices in St Conall’s hospital that there was “a close working relationship between An Garda Síochána and Tusla”.

McDermott asked if Garda Harrison could see a difference between a “close working relationship” between Tusla and the gardaí and the bald phrase “there was a relationship between them”.

“I am standing over that there was a clear reference to a close working relationship which I took as that,” Gada Harrison said.

McDermott put it to Harrison that he had made “a series of incorrect allegations about Tusla that clearly haven’t stood up to a moment’s scrutiny”.

“I haven’t made any allegations about Donna McTeague or Tusla but I have made allegations that there was improper incorrect contacts between the two organisations,” Garda Harrison said.

DISCLOSURES TRIBUNAL 4716_90523740 Source: Eamonn Farrell

Pulse ‘like social media’ 

During afternoon proceedings, Harrison told the Charleton Tribunal that the garda Pulse database was “was similar to a social media site” a decade ago.

Harrison said there was a widespread practice at the time of gardaí looking people up on Pulse when they shouldn’t have been, but this had since ceased.

Representing the Garda Commissioner, Mícheál P O’Higgins SC, said that Garda Harrison had looked up his partner, Simms, in May 2008, before their relationship began and while he was still stationed in Athlone.

The barrister said this would mean Garda Harrison’s explanation that he was looking up Pulse to see if other garda officers were checking on Marisa and his relationship made no sense.

“It is possible at that time we had some contact at that time and out of a sense of curiosity,” Garda Harrison said.

Garda Harrison said that in 2011 when he began a relationship, he “had a fear that somebody was going to find out” and he would be moved from Buncrana garda station.

Martin McDermott, a brother of Simms, was facing homicide charges at the time following the death of another Buncrana-based garda, Gary McLoughlin, in a car collision.

Garda Harrison said he felt he was “under surveillance”, and he believed he was “closely monitored by senior colleagues”.

“I simply wanted to see who was looking at us. That was it,” Garda Harrison said.

“The checking up is your checking up. Nobody else,” tribunal chairman Peter Charleton said.

Garda Harrison said he had since learned that it was possible to check Pulse entries using “confidential cover”, and this did not leave any electronic fingerprints.

O’Higgins said that in 2014, Garda Harrison was keen to hitch his wagon to Sgt Maurice McCabe’s train, and have his complaints dealt with by a commission or tribunal.

Garda Harrison said he was not Maurice McCabe. He was his own man, and made up his own mind.

O’Higgins also said that because of Garda Harrison, Simms was now “bound to this ridiculous story” that she misunderstood what he meant when he said she would get burned in an argument.

Garda Harrison rejected this.

Read: Keith Harrison: ‘I may have been mistaken’ about claim gardaí told Tusla to visit home >

Read: Contradictions, ‘coercions’ and a private life made public: Keith Harrison’s partner at the Tribunal >

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Gerard Cunningham

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